LONG TERM 2014

The following is a collection of videos from the work made for LONG TERM, co-curated by Adriana Disman and Sandrine Schaefer as part of LINK & PIN performance series.  LONG TERM occurred at HUB 14 and around the surrounding areas in Toronto on Saturday, April 12, 2014 – Sunday, April 13, 2014 and was co-presented with Fado.

The work featured in LONG-TERM investigates extended duration, collaborative practices of various artist duos. Unfolding over 2 days, the event addresses the complexities involved in creating, balancing, and evolving a shared creative process.  Enjoy!

 

Miller and Shellabarger

 

Miller & Shellabarger- LONG TERM 2014 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

JV

JV “Tactic” – LONGTERM 2014 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

VestAndPage

 

VestAndPage – LONG TERM 2014 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Duorama 

 

Duorama – Long Term 2014 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Rooms

ROOMS “Ritual No.1: COUNTING BIRDS” – LONG TERM 2014 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Performing the Impossible Homemade Revolutionary Acts | Julia Handschuh

*an excerpt*

Performing the Impossible

Homemade Revolutionary Acts

By Julia Handschuh

I think it began when I tried something impossible. It happened in the context of a durational performance class: the proposition was to commit wholly to doing an impossible task for one hour.  I chose to connect with Andrew.  We’d known each other for some time already but were not romantically involved.  Andrew was backpacking somewhere in Europe while I was in a studio in Boston.  For one hour I tried to get his attention.  By immersing myself in that ridiculous act I was playing with the possibility of believing that I could shake some bit of the world so much it would send ripples out and run through him.  In a marketplace?  On a green hill?  Turning his head to the right?   Hoisting his backpack up onto his hips?  Sitting and reading a book?  Kissing a girl?  Hitchiking and beatboxing in the pouring rain?  Exhausted, content, full of wonder?  Later he told me if it were any day that perhaps it made sense that it would have been that day, sitting on a boat and thinking of home:

 

"home" photo by Andrew Hukins

In moments like these, with pause and brilliance, home seems just below the rocking hull and I find myself afflicted with another illness just as the previous one lifts: homesickness.  Home, even though conceived of geographically is more the longing for comfort, not in an espresso maker and morning paper sort of way, but in the rooms and fields I intimately know, and in the people who I carry with me.  It was with this last thing that I found myself absorbed by, sitting with Mateo, drinking some cheap beer or another, witnessing the burning harbor and goodnight sun[1]

 

As I moved in that studio and Andrew sat on that boat perhaps I was also experimenting with the capacity of my body to have impact and the capacity of my body to let go and transition into something else.  As I jumped around, whispered, danced, screamed, meditated, reminisced, and generally created a ruckus projected in the direction of his existence, something happened; if not in either of us specifically certainly in the space between.  I was giving into something.  I was allowing myself to be swept up in it.  I was falling in love.  Not just with him but with the things made possible in the space between us.  Sharing space with him in the following years I’ve grown to learn and lean into the deep satisfaction and radical change present in a willingness to unabashedly dive in.  

There seems to be great potential in the space of committing yourself to something you previously thought was impossible, just to see what happens, or to force yourself into believing the previously impossible.  Durational performance is a form that is concerned with the effect that time has on the performer, it anticipates that a given action will impress itself on the experience of the performer and evolve with repetition.  Endurance is oftentimes associated with durational performance; the labor or hardship that the body exerts overtime, the commitment to the act, the ability to transcend difficulty, pain and exhaustion, the belief in process and change.  A rhythm is found in repetition over time that passes with minute variations; evolving difference[2]

Learning about and engaging in durational performance art has shifted the way I think about performing life.  I’ve begun to think in terms of creating scores, or sets of rules through which a lived experience can morph and evolve while maintaining commitments to a basic rhythm: to a repetition of actions and habits that establish and uphold a performance for the duration of my life.  Some years after that initial durational performance, after more evolving structures were built between and around Andrew and I, he proposed a different structure.  He proposed a house.

Water. Mold. Moss. Lichen. Fermentation. Growth. Film. Leaves. Steel. Sweat. Finger nails. Flesh. Kerosene. Crust. Thread. Eye lash. Wood. Latex. Nerves. Tendons. Kiss.

in this tiny space we navigate each other

mapping. communicating. maneuvering. negotiating

dreams. troubles. desires.

compromise. extend. enact.

practicing boarders and measures

that hold each other accountable

to hold each other accountable

to house our hearts

to house our body of hearts

to take risks

to be courageous

to imagine the impossible

with love

We’re piling on the bricks and the habits

fortifying a sense (logic)

for a haptic relation

where we can touch our space (dreams) and this dream space touches us.

Meeting and making our world

co-constituting this moment

standing with the trees.

I like to think of Andrew carrying me with him on those days he traveled before we were together.  A talisman of home.  The physical and emotional gap between us somehow made smaller in the ways we’d begun to carry each other around in our minds.  Shared dreams beginning to well up between us.

***

The house was designed and built with people, seasons and sun in mind.  I was feverish the day we swiveled the house slightly to the right.  We had designed it to face south and built the first rendition slightly to the east.  I swung and slept in the brightly colored hammock as Andrew and Brian nudged and pulled the house to face the sun.  Now the light filters into our bedroom so perfectly: six am a geometric stream enters the room, seven: smooth along the wall, eight it crawls along the pillow, nine gathering in the corner and by ten accumulates and diffuses to a glow that misses the corners of the room and lays evenly over the bed.

Striking out together and building a home made something happen that continues to resonate today.  It made what was felt in that first durational performance take on the solid materiality of wood, glass and sweat.  It became a living object.  A dwelling to contain our bodies and the space between us.  A frame to ponder and dream and love.  We were ridiculous enough to let go and dive in.  Believing that this was possible meant that we believed in each other.  We love each other for this.

These eight by eight foot units held together with bolts rather than nails, were designed with the intention of impermanence, that we might dismantle it some day and move it to a bit of land that is legitimately our own.  With the addition of roof, shingles and a sink the space becomes solidified in my mind as something unmovable­ and I wonder if this processes of making habitat leads towards a cementing that can produce comfort without stasis.   As our house sinks into the land and finds its volume in the overlapping layers of wood insulation and paint, my hope is that it does not grow to be sedentary but rather evolves with the landscape of our lives.  I wonder how long we will stay here and if there will come a time when moving is no longer the lens through which we adjust our beings.  Is this no longer a structure that is collapsible and movable?  Is there still a possibility of dismantling, reassembling and aligning toward the sun?

***

What is the gathering force that propels our actions? Perhaps it is necessary to create a crisis or disjuncture, to trick ourselves into immediate and urgent response.  Does it need to be an issue of life and death? [3]  The war is so far away and the bodies are so neatly stacked.  How can we carry the weight of these things?  Embed them in our skin?  Perhaps they are already there, and we forget.

"the smoke" photo by Julia Handschuh

We’re seeking a space where actions have implications that you can feel.  We can no longer trust the eyes.  Searching for a haptic feed-back loop that empowers us to maintain presence, persistence, perseverance.  Where citizen participation is not redirected through votes and consumerism.  In the United States the implications of our actions are muted by governance, those systems held so tightly so as to restrict movement, whose gloved hands withdraw the bloody wounds of activists, soldiers, immigrants, prisoners.  The implications of our actions are effectively hidden to ensure a glossy finish, a gleaming surface that reflects and refracts, deflecting responsibility, deflecting guilt. I am looking for systems that I can feel a part of, that I have impact on and impact me.  So can I feel pressure push and push back.  That we might seep into one another.  A citizenry of dissent[4].

What spaces are here yet go undiscovered for fear, arrogance or exclusion?  What is truly possible in this moment?  In this life?  What impact do our bodies and actions have on others?  Does it make a difference if I don’t buy coca-cola products or pay taxes?  Two people living in one little house in the woods writing love sonnets to anti-capitalism.

***

There are books: shelter from 1963, feminist theory read and unread, Carlos Castneta, obsessed over and contested, Edward Westin’s images of Charis’ sincere body, Louisa May Alcott, Charlotte’s Web, Mathematics For Builders.  There are windows, some in, some out, leaning precariously in their unfinished sills between two pieces of plastic, trying to keep the winter air out.  There is a small woodstove with the inscription A & J HEAT welded to its side, the pipe leaks the distinct smell of creosote into the air which mingles with linseed oil, wood and incense.  Wax drips in pools of chard plywood amongst toothbrushes, bobby pins and nails.  It’s just the right size, if a little too small.  Eight by eight foot units, seems to be people size.  Built in a ratio proportionate to our adult bodies.  I feel as if I’m playing house.  Playing hippie, playing childhood, playing radical, playing make believe.  Make belief.  To make belief.

This was an action we could take that felt in keeping with our bodies, with our beliefs.  A reflection of the way we want to be (a way we are).  Allured by the logic of glossy capitalism and plastic bodies that pervade so much of the 21st century it seems necessary to remodel the connection between how we identify and how we are; to make stronger links between what we believe and how we act.  To realign and reorient the hows and whys of what matters, what forms this existence; negotiating the gap between polymer constructions and organic growth.  Between our place, our bodies, our selves.  To transfer these beliefs into our lives, into our bodies, there is a translation that must be made from ideas to actions, or actions to ideas, looping the abstract and the practical back onto itself, folding everyday reality into the weave of theoretical and ideological dreams[5].

Maybe we can make ourselves believe in this.  Make-believe.  Make-belief.  If I act as if, if I perform fear, perform preparedness, perform sustainability, play radical, play creative, practice hope, if I make actions that reflect the way I want to be (the way I am) at what moment would my actions shift to belief?[6]  The world is racing far ahead of us as we sit by and buy[7].  In our cushy debt and fear filled lives there is an impossibility to “be prepared”.  What if we sink into an unknown that is pregnant with possibility?  At what moment will something break, or open?

***

PART 2

***

"ours" photo by Julia Handschuh

To Score.  To cut through —making impressions and incisions, opening up the world.  To keep tally, accumulating and measuring up, weighing one against another.  Scores: a large amount of something: amassing numbers and volume.  A score: a set of rules or guidelines that provide structure for an improvisation.  A written composition, a map for something to be performed, to be enacted.

In this space there is a score, one that is upheld, revisited and revised.  We share in each other’s bodies, in our selves, in our body selves.  We’re charting a course, delineated with intention, a trajectory propelled by attunement, choice, permissions, breaking and making habits, a self-reflexive performance.  A flexible performance.  Flex, reflex, respond.  Building up strength and muscle memory, a flexibility that is determined by use.  Finding enjoyment in the duration, the passing and the process.  These charts map moving, orientation points shift, renewing origins remapping arrivals, re-visioning success.

The volume of the score, a medium through which the score makes manifest takes on its weight from what is perceived; made hidden and revealed: governance, systems, legitimacy, anarchy, freedom, capitalism, consumerism, cash flow.  Living alternatives to domesticity, between two bodies in a straight framed home, intimately questioning the queer possibilities within this place. Where home extends beyond comfort and familiarity to a challenge and support.  To count on one another.  To hold each other accountable.  An intimate challenge to dissect the lines of power and oppression that tie knots around our limbs.  Countering, escalating and grabbing hold.  Making careful choices for what binds us.  To have and to hold.  To hold. Using our bodies as bridges to the world, enacting the possibility of dissolving dichotomies: individual and collective, rural and urban, worker and intellectual, outsider and insider, citizen and dissent. Performed by to people within a home.  Performed by two people within the woods.  Performed by two people within the world.

And where is this performance seen?  How is it seen and by who?  Do our everyday actions dissolve just as citizens blend into the capitalist regime?  Is this a way to show up for oneself?  For the world?  I am told past generations have ruined this world for us, have failed and made things worse.  I’ve encountered some liberals who say they’ve done their part and it’s time for our generation to stand up to the task, others express regret at the failures of their generation to revolutionize, to tare down and reimagine the world.

I do not know that my actions towards sustainability and environmental rights and wellbeing are meant to incite actions in others so much as satisfy my desire to feel a connection between what I believe and what I do.  I would not say this is an existential, transcendental, religious or even spiritual desire, but one that is aligned with an ecological ethics which recognizes the materiality of our existence and the inextricable ties between human systems (be they governmental or cellular) and the ecological networks of life[8].  Networks that we are told again and again are rapidly changing, indeed failing, to detriment of life as we know it[9].  After all, “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism”. [10]

Bookended between the failures of the 60’s and the imminent collapse[11] of the future, perhaps it takes the world to dismantle itself before we can begin to imagine something new, something outside this world order.  Are there actions that lead to believing?  Or believing that incites action?  What if we sincerely believed in this collapse?  Wouldn’t we act?  Are we just playing with this belief?  Toying with the possibility of collapse?  So capitalism totes it around on a brightly colored string, some wooden duck on wheels bobbing its head to the tune of derivatives and debt.  Derivatives and debt. Debt. Debt. Debt. Dent.  Making small dents on impact.  And we all fall down.

Failure rears its head

like some systematic nervous tick.

Automated

machines answer with

fall falling failure

political, economic, climate

collapse

and we all fall down.

What reliance and resilience?

What neatly leaning lines?

Deciduous leaves drop to the floor

leaflets

announcements written in digital paper trails

scribbling and scratching

marking witness to the

(falling)

American Dream.

Increasingly I am questioning the possibility of systematic change.  What could possibly change the performance of our daily lives if not global climate change or a global war on terror?  At what point and how must we feel these experiences in our bodies in a way that would instigate a response other than consumerism and fear?  Must we always do as we’re told?  Here I am caught between past failures and the presence of a left leaning toward the center pulled by an evermore-radical right.

All space is legitimized through contract and currency.  The space of land, the space of love, the space of creativity, are consistently co-opted by capital and governance[12].  The existence of private property ensures an inequity propagated by the initiation of arbitrary lines of ownership predicated on stolen goods and labor.  If this is true it may not be legitimacy that we must seek but rather an adherence to systems that we can believe in and a radical rejection of those forms of legitimacy that are upheld by systems of inequity and oppression.  Maybe we do not want to own some land after all[13].  If we already reject marriage as a form of private possession, a sequestering and tracking of bodies by the state, what other forms of property can be disentangled from our lives?

The magnitude of these knots are revealed in so many histories[14] whose contemporary manifestations further the foundational weave of this American life[15]; so much so that a radical disavowal of these systems requires an intricate interrogation of our daily lives.  These historical and contemporary atrocities deserve nothing less.  It is time that Americans not only reflect on but also enact strategies of radical equality, participation and self-governance and at the very least cease to be complicit with projects that ensure the United States as a dominating world power.   I refuse to participate and so I am attempting to disentangle myself from this mess.  Perhaps the spaces of action must be smaller, radically localized to touch the intricacies of how capitalism saturates our daily lives[16]. Perhaps there is an answer in condensation, like so many water droplets, fusing against the grain, blurring the panoptic view[17].  It will be a shared space: made small enough so we can feel each other in it.  We are not running away.  This retreat is not an escape.  It is a reconfiguring of the rules for our existence.

***

When I was young my family edited out television then meat then town then school.  Living without these things our lives were not defined by their lack but rather the worlds opened up onto in their absence: countless hours spent outdoors, vegetarian cooking classes; the nightly gathering of family dinners; long evenings in the company of friends and family without the pre-occupation of screens.  Before the Internet and personal computers took hold of our worlds, there was more silence, more singing, more conversation.  As pressures weighed on daily life this idealism lost its luster, or revisions were made to the score that had choreographed our lives.  Television, then meat, then school, were added back in for convenience sake.  Television became a respite to the troubles of economically sustaining a family, the ease of cooking meat afforded time at the end of a long day, school served to ensure oversight that working parents or a wider community could no longer provide.  With the addition of exhaustion from upholding ideals within a fading partnership, our collective familial dreams sunk into a picture of working American life.  And what American family would not be complete without divorce?  After nineteen years of participating in the play of a picture perfect family I witnessed my parents relationship dissolve into the folds of typical marital statistics.

Reflecting on this now it seems pertinent to the unfolding of a life with Andrew, in this little house in the woods.  It is fitting that I would surround myself with a structural integrity that lifts up and supports the childhood ideals that have sunken into my skin.  There are a good many things I could blame for the deterioration, or perhaps I should say, transformation, of my family.  Of many families.  It would be these things that create the lines drawn in the sand between acceptance and rejection of scores for ways of being in the world.  They form a basis for my lack of faith in American Governance and American Dreams.

***

"gone" photo by Julia Handschuh

I have spent the past year apart from Andrew, living in a city, pursuing another dream, always with the intention to return.  We’ve been apart now just enough that we can come together, a defining of self, skin and boundaries that opens pores; the sweating out of the other to let in a sigh of return and relief.  Brushing against the space of self-sufficiency and resistance, to know ourselves as individuals so that we might join snugly at the hip.  In this way space becomes a catalyst, a medium for transference of our dreams into the world.  The space of our house accumulates a history, like our bodies whose layers of memories and imaginings show up on our skin.

Sex, dirt, honey, olive oil, milk power and marijuana, ash and wax, salt and glue.  In the absence of sterilization the residue of life builds up the surface on our things, ingrained in the wood through substance and memory.  Bus schedule.  Ladder.  Staple gun.  Legos.  Forming some assemblage of childhood and becoming.  Our pasts are with us in these moments and spaces: the heartache, the bug bites, the smoothies and drug trips, hoola hoops and hitchhiking, truckers, fresh tomatoes, Mexican beaches, washing in the pond with peppermint soap, the tingle the rush of air the prickly grass.

We’re attempting to hold onto this thing that people see as fleeting, this idealism of the twenty’s that I’m told will soon slip from my 28-year-old body as it passes into jaded adulthood.  Disentangling illusions and reality.  We feel close enough to our childhoods that the dreams of them are still living.  That time is tangible; made within reach through our present actions, resonating in our daily lives.  Scrapping away the screens of surface tension on familial skin.  My father’s freckles my mother’s eyes.  What remains in this body, in this house, is the stuff of dreams.  This house, this home, this dream space moves, it moves us to enact the previously impossible, the stuff of dreams.  A score of durational acts that build space to ensure that we are living the life we want to lead.

***


 

Works Cited

 

Boltanski, L. 2008, ‘The Present Left and the Longing for Revolution,’ in Under Pressure:

 

Pictures, Subjects, and the New Spirit of Capitalism, (eds) D. Birnbaum & I. Graw,

 

Sternberg Press, Berlin, 52-71.

 

Bourdieu, Pierre. The logic of Practice. Stanford University Press; 1 edition. 1992

 

Gibson-Graham, J.K. The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It). Published by the University of

 

Minnesota Press. 2006.

 

Guatarri, Felix. The Three Ecologies. The Athlone Press, 2000.

 

Harmon, Graham. Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics. re.press. 2009.

 

Jackson, Michael. Things As They Are: New Directions in Phenomenological Anthropology. Indiana University Press. 1996.

 

Lefebvre, Henri. Rythmanalysis: Space Time and Everyday Life. Continuum. 2004.

 

Massumi, Brian. Parables of the Virtual Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Duke University Press Books. 2002

 A Shock to Thought: Expression after Delueze and Guattari. Routledge. 2002

 

McKibbin, Bill. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. St. Martin’s Griffin; First Edition edition. 2011

 

Ruppert, Michael. Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World. Chelsea Green Publishing. 2009.

 

Thoreau, Henry David. On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. Arc Manor. 2007.

 

Utopia in Four Movements. Dir. Sam Green, Co-Dir. Dave Cerf. 2011

 

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Dlx

 

Rep edition. 2002.

 

Collapse. Dir. Chris Smith, Star. Michael Ruppert. 2010.

 

[1] Written by Andrew shared with me through an email.

 

[2] Lefebvre. 6.

 

[3] In the absence of any understandable response in a moment of extreme distress we act according to a body logic that makes it’s own sense, “generating words or actions that are both senseless and sense-full.” (Bourdieu, 95-96) Is it only in these moments of extreme distress that we will act? At what point will we feel the ramifications of United States foreign policy in such a way that would make us act in appropriately senseless and a sense-full ways? I am not so sure that the calculated compromising moves of the Left are the best ways to counter the impassioned senseless distress calls of the Right.

 

[4] Here I am thinking of Henry David Thoreau’s classic text On the Duty of Civil Disobedience as well as Bruno Latour’s notion of the Dissenter, as explained in Graham Harmon’s Prince of Networks. Harmon describes the Dissenter as a person who serves to question a process at every turn. (39) Both of these authors recognize the importance of oppositional characters to the process of innovation be it scientific, social or political.

 

[5] Here I am thinking of Michael Jackson’s introduction to Things As They Are in which he speaks about the production of knowledge; that which is lived and that which is disembodied. He calls attention to the paradox of theorization and practical knowledge and suggests that ethnography is one way to straddle the division between lived experience and linguistic articulation. Forming political critiques from lived experience and infusing political theory into daily life is an act of translation between the abstract and the embodied, making theory that is embedded in the world.

 

[6]Resonating with Jackson’s sentiments of embodied theory, Pierre Bourdieu’s theorizes in The Logic of Practice that beliefs (those things that are theoretically real) are materialized in our bodies; that they become real through the ways they are enacted. 69.

 

[7] In The Present Left and the Longing for Revolution Luc Boltanski sites various ways that the left has turned it’s politics away from capitalism and towards issues of bio-politics. Despite the ways that capitalism is tied to the furthering of bio-political oppression political action has been directed away from critiques of labor, market and capital and towards identity politics. 66. In the face of American culture, which encourages consumerism as every turn, Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping targets the complacent consumer reflex by making performances that aid consumers in breaking their addictive buying habits.

 

[8] Felix Guatarri makes a similar proposition in The Three Ecologies in which he outlines what he calls an “ecosophy”: an articulation of the ethico-political arenas of “environment, social relations and human subjectivity”[8] through the lens of ecology. His call to recognize the depth and breadth with which all things are interconnected (not as a singular unity but as a system that consists of a multiplicity of interacting forces) demands a deep interrogation and response to political and environmental issues, both individually and collectively. It is with this same sense of material interconnection that I reference ecological networks.

 

[9] In Eaarth, Bill McKibbin outlines the ways in which global climate change has reached a tipping point that erases the possibility of recuperating the destruction wrought to planet earth. He argues we must continue to develop sustainably solutions not based on an ideal of turning back the clock but rather facing how life might be able to continue given the continued climate shifts that are already underway.

 

[10] Jameson, 76.

 

[11] See Michael Ruppert’s Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World and the related documentary Collapse.

 

[12] See The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It) by J.K. Gibson-Graham

 

[13]The Invisible Committee echoes this sentiment in their manifesto: “For us it’s not about possessing territory. Rather, it’s a matter of increasing the density of the communes, of circulation, and of solidarities to the point that the territory becomes unreadable, opaque to all authority. We don’t want to occupy the territory, we want to be the territory.”108.

 

[14] Such as is illuminated in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States

 

[15] The continued war in Iraq and human rights violations in prisons like Abu Ghraib are indicative of United States foreign policy, which functions on a blatant disregard for human rights both at home and abroad.

 

[16] In The End of Capitalism (as we knew it) Gibson-Graham note that “…on the left, we get up in the morning opposing capitalism, not imagining practical alternatives. In this sense, it is partly our own subjection—successful or failed, accommodating or oppositional—that constructs a “capitalist society.”xv.

 

[17] In April 2010 Alexander R. Galloway presented a lecture at the New School titled “Black Box, Black Bloc” wherein he speaks about the French collective Tiqqun who speak about “invisible revolt” in terms of fog, a veil through which subversive actions cannot be seen by the imperial state. 9.

 

Julia Handschuh writes, moves, and makes objects; oftentimes in relation to issues of improvisation, ecology and the politics of space.  This past year she and Andrew were forced to dismantle their cabin, and they now reside in Turners Falls, Mass where they are working to secure a cooperatively-owned building.  Julia intends to include these experiences into a further edition Performing the Impossible.  Please contact her if you are interested in reading or publishing this work: juliashoe@gmail.com

Rough Trade II Interviews: Marilyn Arsem | Meredith and Anna

MARILYN ARSEM

Marilyn Arsem “still.missing” 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

TPT: How did you find performance art?  How did performance art find you?

MA: I think it found me…  I remember being completely taken by written accounts of Happenings when I was in high school, and as a result we created our own, a group of us collaborating and combining different media. I remember even then being interested in real time rather than in narratives, in actions with materials rather than in plots, in visual images rather than in characters, in engaging with the audience rather than building a fourth wall.  So it made sense to align myself with the visual and performance art and new media communities.

TPT: You have an interesting process for making work.  Can you describe it and specifically the process you went through for realizing this work? 

MA: I try to follow certain instructions to myself:…  to do something that I have never done before, to work with the specifics of the space, to consider the context of the event, to make use of what is easily available, to not make unreasonable demands on the institution hosting the work, to tread lightly and leave no marks, to operate from my current state of mind, to pay attention to what I am paying attention to, to not be afraid to fail.  I remind myself that I am not obligated to entertain the viewers, that I can ask questions rather than provide answers, and that all I can really do is respond to what I am encountering at that time, from where I am in that moment.  It is a conversation, an inquiry, a process of discovery, rather than a statement or position.

 

Marilyn Arsem "still.waiting" 2012 photo by Sandrine Schaefer

 

TPT: How did you arrive at the decision to work in Defibrillator’s windows?  How did this context inform your piece?

MA: I hadn’t expected that the windows would be available, since I understood from the website that they were curated separately.  So it was only when I arrived on Thursday night that I heard that it was possible to work in them.   I was especially interested in the fact that the audience moved in and out between the two windows; that there were actually two separate windows to use.

 

Marilyn Aresm "still.waiting" 2012 photo by Sandrine Schaefer

 

TPT: Can you talk about the flour?

MA: It was a practical choice – I wanted the floor to be as white as the walls – I suppose I was influenced as well by the floor of the gallery being so newly painted white.  But really I just wanted the visual of white.  Later I thought that it suggested snow or clouds.  And I knew that flour would be easy to get in quantity, as I was told that there was a grocery store nearby…  and finally, I knew that it would be relatively benign to lie in it.

TPT: Can you talk about the blue chair?

MA: The choice of a chair descending occurred in stages.  First I thought of something rising, but then decided that something descending would be a better choice.  I am not sure why I decided that, though I could say that I have done a number of works where some object has risen into the air, and so I thought doing the reverse might be interesting.    And it felt right…

Then the question was what should descend.   Fruit?  Shoes?  Nothing seemed right.  Sabri, an artist who used to live in Boston, but is currently studying in Chicago,  suggested ‘furniture,’ and then I thought – of course, a chair.  Choosing the color took longer, but then light blue seemed right.  Later I thought of it being a reverse sky…

A chair might be considered a body, or something waiting to hold another body…  Or the descending chair might be read as ‘Deus Ex Machina.’   However, when the chair arrives it is empty.  Still waiting.  Something is missing.

But these choices – white, flour, chair, blue, are really just intuitive choices.  My understanding of them, or explanation of them, comes hours or days later, and most often in reflection on the work, after the performance happens.

 

Marilyn Aresm "still.waiting" 2012 photo by Sandrine Schaefer

 

TPT:  Is there a relationship between these objects and the broader scope of your work?

MA: I am not sure how I might answer this question…  I have had chairs in performances before  – a small red chair high in a tree; a chair made of ice in which the audience sat; a red chair placed daily in the landscape to witness sunrise…   I consider an empty chair as a very interesting site – an offer, a place waiting to be occupied, or evidence of something or someone who is missing…

TPT: Can you talk about the intention behind the actions?  Did that intention change once your were in the piece?

MA: I don’t think that I have a way to talk about intention.  I had an image of myself lying face down, in white.  And so I created that.  I wanted to be lying down, not engaging with people.  But I did want something to change, to arrive, to offer some other possibility, even though it was unfulfilled.

TPT: What were you thinking about during your piece?

MA: Haha, well actually I was trying not to think about how painful it was, how I wished that I had made a test for myself about what might be a more comfortable position to occupy.  But, I also had wanted to simply land in the window, on the flour, as if I had fallen from the sky.  And so that is how I ended in that position – I more or less fell into it.

TPT: Where were you during your piece?

MA: Breathing.  Listening.  Lowering the chair.

 

Marilyn Aresm "still.waiting" 2012 photo by Sandrine Schaefer

 

TPT: What were some of your expectations/ hopes (if any) of your audience?

MA: In this context I had many fewer expectations of the audience than usual.  In my mind, I was simply an image that slowly transformed over time.  I wanted them to see me, to forget about me as they watched other performances, and then look again to see the chair slowly descending.

TPT: How was performing in Chicago different from making work in Boston?

MA: I rarely make work in Boston.  Being in Chicago was a pleasure, not the least being that I spoke the same language as the residents.  I could anticipate how they might view the image.   Oh, and I could find my materials more easily, negotiate paying for them with ease…

TPT: Can you talk about the process of titling your pieces?  Why/ how did you choose the title “Still, waiting”?

MA: still. waiting

My computer resists that title, trying to make the S and W capital, or change the period to a comma.  It resists, trying to follow rules…

But choosing a title happens for me after the work.  It is a way to give a clue to a way of thinking about or looking at the work.  More information.  And so in this case I am trying to accurately identify what was happening to me at the time, and attempting to name that experience, or at least suggest other information in order to have a more in depth reading of the work.

 

Marilyn Aresm "still.waiting" 2012 photo by Sandrine Schaefer

MEREDITH AND ANNA

Meredith And Anna 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

TPT: Did your piece have a title?

A: Part of our performance method is about reacting un-rehearsed to the situations that our actions create, so though our projects always have working titles that we use to discuss the piece previous to the performance – we don’t title the work until we show documentation of it.

M: The title of the piece is “Red Flag”.

TPT: How did you find performance art? How did performance art find you?

M: I signed up for Performance Art I thinking I was taking an acting class, I had been involved in a local improv group. My performance art professor Mat Wilson (Industry of the Ordinary) was quite dissatisfied with this historical perspective. Performance art found me when, once educated by Wilson) I started inserting my work into the public sphere and was uncharacteristically embraced by the public for the medium.

A: I’m pretty sure I have always made performance art. I just didn’t know what I was doing until I started working with Industry of the Ordinary. In high school I would do things like hook up a Karaoke machines in the car and drive around picking up people to sing with my friends Kyle and I. I went to art school as a painter until I found I could approach activities I already love, like singing Karaoke in the car, aesthetically and construct artistic experiences.

TPT: How did you meet? How long have you been making work together?

A: We met eating take-out from Sultans Market on the floor of the Happy Collaborationist Exhibition Space. Meredith was a part of Before Cake, After Dinner – a performance art group that we exhibiting showing at Happy C.

M: I feel like it’s important to note that I hate everyone upon first meeting them but in the same breath I am capable of falling in love. I fell in love with Anna and Hadley of the Happy Collaborationists … they also let me smoke inside.

A: Meredith joined the Happy Collaborationists curatorial collective three years ago and we have been collaborating on our artistic practice together for about a year.

TPT: Can you describe your process for collaborating?

A: Currently we are in a bar; this is admittedly an important element of our work.

M: I wouldn’t consider myself a possessive girlfriend, however, I “collaborate with”/contact Anna… how many times a day?

A: …Twenty or thirty, depending on what we have going on, considerably more often then my boyfriend. I think where you really see this in our work is with the lack of formality in relating to one another when performing, we laugh when things are funny, we openly discuss how to cope with situations that arise; constant communications is part of our relationships and our art practice.

TPT: Do you have individual practices? Can you talk about them?

M: We are currently concentrating on our collaborative practice; neither of us has made solo work in 3-5 years.

TPT: How did the context of the Pozen Center inform your work?

 

Meredith And Anna "Red Flag" 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

 

M: We hated the Pozen Center. We were absolutely thrilled to be presenting work at Mass Arts and we were excited to be working in a space of such importance but found the space physically overwhelming.

A: I was terrified of the Pozen Center, as soon as we walked in. I was terrified of the stage and the grandeur. We usually work with actions that can insert themselves into a pre-existing context and the Pozen Center demanded that we make ourselves the center of attention.

M: If we had not been in the Pozen Center we would not have executed this piece this way, the scale of the room forced us to work with height, the insurance restrictions of the College forced us to change the structural formation of the piece and the theatrical lighting forced us to interact with set and audience in a way that we usually avoid. We now love the Pozen Center.

TPT: How did you communicate with one another in this piece?

M: When we are performing we do not take on any characters of personas. When we laugh its real, when we swear it’s real, when we fall its real.

A: When were perform we have fluid conversations, we work thought problems and make jokes, we pretty much discus things exactly the same way we would if we weren’t doing something ridiculous.  Anything else would be acting.

TPT: How did you decide on the actions and imagery in this piece?

M: I was on an OK Cupid date, and it was going great. The guy had been a curator or something in St. Louis, which gave me a false sense of security of what I could or could not talk about. Due to nerves I had skipped dinner and we were meeting for drinks … after a few cocktails things were going so well that we moved on to a restaurant. At some point I said “reality television is really important to me”, to which Jude said “You just said ‘reality television is really important to me’ RED FLAG.”  I assumed he was making a joke and continued to discus my love of all things high and low culture. I never heard from Jude again, but since then I have had many conversations of how I define Red Flags, as well discussions about all of the attributes that make me a red flag.

A: Meredith is one of the funniest people I have ever met and she tells this story really well, more importantly I have made her tell this story to so many people who are much more important than us, so for me the image of the red flag has shifted from a portrait of Meredith to a portrait of our ridiculous relationship. When we arrived at the Pozen center we found these poles that were used to hang lights, they were reminiscent of flag poles and I immediately climbed to the top of them. They were wonderful objects and it became pretty obvious that we needed to raise ourselves as red flags on them. We wanted to present a third pole in the piece, a place holder for the audience to physically or intellectually position themselves in and consider how they could stand beside us. The joined triangular structure was the result of us worrying the College, they wouldn’t let us do the piece without the brace which turned out to be a win/lose situation, we lost the direct reference to a flag pole but it the end it strengthened the sculptural footprint of the piece when we were not performing.

M: I also got that one guy to take off this shirt while he was building it.

TPT: Do you often use endurance actions in your work?

A: Often, it’s hard to end performance art and if a work doesn’t have a built in ending it’s the only decision that makes since, beyond that it connects directly to our life styles – we both work multiple jobs, run Happy Collaborationists and still try to make art. Our existence is a practice of endurance and we don’t quit anything until our bodies or minds give out.

M: Our practice is also based on a concept or idea of generosity. What can we give the audience? What can we give each other? It only makes sense to do any of these things for as long as humanly possible.

TPT:. Can you talk about the color red?

M: Red is a big color; it’s bold and demands attentions.

A: I don’t think we started working with red for the sake of aesthetics, rather we were interested in several objects in our culture that others had decided to make red: the red carpet, the red flag and the red solo cup. We selected aspects of everyday existence that we were interested in and they all happened to red, because of that I think we have started to really consider this color aesthetically. It took us about five hour of shopping to find the “right” red shirts for this piece

TPT: Can you talk about the intention behind the actions? Did that intention change once your were in the piece?

 M: Our intent with this piece was to fail. It was important to insert ourselves symbolically as a flag, but it was equally important to carry out an action that would ultimately become physically impossible.  Our intention did not change because we successfully failed.

 A: I believe that the in-time transformation of the piece happened in its second occurrence. When Meredith and I started, we were both already physically exhausted. After I helped her to the top of the pole, I could not quite reach the top myself. After we had both fallen, it because obvious that we could not continue to simultaneous execute this sculpture – so we decided to reformat the action and she began to lift me the top over and over again, until I was no longer physically able to grip the bar that was holding me up. She was still standing by me, but we had to combine our strengths to keep the sculpture alive.

 

Meredith And Anna "Red Flag" 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

 

TPT: What is Happy Collaborationists?

M: Happy Collaborationists is our collaborative curatorial practice, we use it to support other artists working in performance, installation and media arts.

TPT: What are the blue wigs all about?

A: Everyone always asks about Happy C’s wigs, and that’s the point. They are goofy and approachable, we work with conceptual art, sculptural performance and a lot of other forms of artwork that make people uncomfortable about asking questions and engaging with us. The blue wigs started as a wacky stunt that had a lot to do with the fact the we all looked good in blue wigs, but they remained because over and over again someone who wants to ask a question about the artwork can’t do so until they are already having a conversation with us, and no one has ever been awkward about walking up and asking about the wigs, or asking to get their picture taken with us. It’s not a performance it’s more of a scheme.

TPT: What were some of your expectations/ hopes (if any) of your audience?

M: That they don’t feel trapped. I want our audience to make their own incredibly conscious decisions as to what the piece means to them, and how they chose or choose not to interact with a work. Ultimately I am a looking for acceptance.

A: I hope that an audience engages and interprets our actions from their own perspective, once you make a work it become autonomous and I believe that any individuals perspective on a piece that I do is equally valued to my own.

TPT: Were there any moments that surprised you?

A: Yes and no, we never know how our interaction will unfold in a work, so we never know exactly what to expect. When you don’t have precise expectations, it’s hard to be surprised.

 

Meredith And Anna "Red Flag" 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

 

TPT: How was performing in Boston different from making work in Chicago?

M: We couldn’t find a liquor store anywhere.

TPT: What imprints did Boston leave on you?

M: This was our first time engaging in an artist exchange and we are grateful for the friendships we have made and are inspired by the work of these Boston based artists.  We are blown away by the generosity of the individuals we have met.

TPT: Can you talk about the duration of this work?

M: We waited until a crowd gathered and then reacted to our physical limitations.

A: We performed the work once and were exhausted. After a recovery period we felt as though we could continue the action, so we re-executed the piece. We performed until I could no longer grip the pole and we had to stop.

TPT: What is inspiring you at the moment?

M: The ability to laugh at ourselves and knowing when to laugh at each other. We make work about things we can confidently answer about one another lives and actions.

TPT: What’s next?

THE CALENDAR!

TPT: Any words of wisdom?

M: A Snickers in not a meal…

A: except when it is.

Rough Trade II Interviews: Philip Fryer | Elena Katsulis & Erin Peisert

 

ERIN PEISERT & ELENA KATSULIS

 

Elena Katsulis and Erin Peisert 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

TPT: How did you meet? How long have you been making work together?

E&E: We were once co-workers. We bonded over a mutual love for performance and decided that we should collaborate. We’ve been working together for about a year and a half.

 

TPT: Can you describe your process for collaborating?

E&E:  Most often, it starts with an interesting image, concept, or material that we’d like to explore. After some discussion, we realize that there is usually an implied subject to which we both relate; in a general way. Then we share our personal impressions and individual experiences in relation to the subject and these are what form the more specific intentions behind the piece. In terms of collaborating on durational work, we’ve discovered a previously unexperienced level of investment and accountability. It is very different from performing solo. As a duo, you find it’s necessary to find that general commonality and put your specific differences aside.

 

TPT:  Do you have individual practices? Can you talk about them?

Elena: I have done a few solo pieces, and also work with a performance trio called KEN. We use movement, music, hand-made objects and sculptural costumes. I also write.
Erin: I practice butoh dance, movement, some 2D visual stuff, and sounds.

 

Elena Katsulis & Erin Peisert 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

TPT:  How did the context of the Pozen Center inform your work?

E&E:  More than the Pozen Center itself, it was our relation to each other and those around us in the space that informed the piece. In the space of the Pozen Center, we decided to position ourselves in the front doorway; with intent to disrupt the expected pattern of foot traffic.

 

TPT: Why rope?

E&E: Physically, the rope functioned in binding us together; externally. It allowed for added dimension in negotiating our release. Aesthetically, it seemed like the simplest, most raw material. Visually this reminded us of a Chinese finger trap. Unable to successfully separate until both committed to doing so.

 

TPT:  How did you communicate through your piece?

E&E: We could sense subtle energetic and physical shifts; intuition. One would initiate and the other would agree.

 

Elena Katsulis & Erin Peisert 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

 

TPT:  The audience became concerned for you as the piece evolved. Elena was visibly cold and your fingers were turning blue. Some came over and touched you. How did this inform the work for you?

E&E: It definitely broke the traditional audience/performer unspoken boundaries. We were no longer just objects to be looked at. The fact that our physical well-being was a concern for those around us certainly brought a compassionate quality to the piece that we weren’t expecting. The viewers became actively invested. The people who came to warm our hands had the courage to step outside of, not just the traditional artist/viewer relationship, but possibly their own hesitation, in terms of breaking that barrier. That was particularly inspiring.

Elena Katsulis & Erin Peisert 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

 

TPT:  Can you talk about the intention behind the actions? Did that intention change once your were in the piece?

E&E:  We wanted to explore how two people relate to each other and how that relationship changes over time. One person’s actions and desires undeniably effect the other. When there is mutual investment, and over the course of time, one change will eventually effect the dynamic of the whole either by transformation or dissolution.
The intention didn’t change once we were in the piece, but once we were actually bound and laying on the floor, we became less focused on the intention behind the piece and more on the present situation. For me (elena), I had a hard time separating myself from the physical aspects of the action and surroundings. I was freezing, and shaking uncontrollably. When I could sense people standing over us and witnessing that, I started to shake even more. I became aware that people might be concerned about us.Visually this reminded us of a Chinese finger trap. Unable to successfully separate until both committed to doing so.

 

TPT: What were you thinking about during your piece?

Erin: I feel like my body-awareness is heightened when I’m at ground level. I try and be as present with every aspect of my physical condition as possible. I often think of Elena and how she’s doing. Sometimes I observed the space, the people in it, sounds, shapes, and light from a different perspective; the floor.

Elena: My mind was wandering. Like a graph that starts small, curves upwards, then slopes back down again. I was thinking about the smallest things: my toes, the temperature, etc., to observing the surroundings and what I could view of the people, to Erin and what she might be experiencing; and to larger concepts…then back down again.

 

TPT:  What were some of your expectations/ hopes (if any) of your audience?

E&E:  We didn’t have any expectations, but by obstructing the open doorway, we hoped that the audience would be engaged in a way that they weren’t expecting and that they might reconsider boundaries between audience and performer.

 

TPT:  Were there any moments that surprised you?

E&E:  Yes. One time was when we were treated us as, not art, but people through the warming of our hands. Another time, we both noticed that people had started to congregate around us; waiting patiently for what seemed like us to “do something”. After the piece ended, we talked about that moment and discovered that, while it it, we each had the initial impulse to move our bodies as if to satisfy a perceived desire for entertainment, but consciously resisted.

 

TPT: How was performing in Boston different from making work in Chicago?

E&E:  In Boston, most of the audience we performed for had very little preconception of our work as artists or of us personally. Elena was interested in how that informed their perceptions of the work, compared to some of our peers in Chicago who know us in a different way. We also noticed a great willingness by the Boston audience to wait out the duration.

TPT:  What imprints did Boston leave on you?

E&E:  In Boston there was a strong sense of community. It opened our eyes to a world of artists who initiate events; previously unknown to us.

 

TPT:  Why did you choose to create this work over the duration of 3 hours?

E&E:  We wanted to become part of the structured event as a whole more than an action to be watched from beginning to end. Even when we remain relatively still, as time goes by, there are many external variables which end up demonstrating that passing of time. By remaining for three hours, we hoped to show this change physically.

 

TPT:   What is the role of repetition in this work?

E&E:  Most often our performances do use very clear repetitive actions, however this happened to be one of our most static. Despite that, we did still experience similar changes in energy as we do in our more clearly repetitive work.

 

TPT:  What is inspiring you at the moment?

E&E:  Push/pull, initiate/allow, finding interest in the mundane, accepting not knowing the unknown, time, idiosyncrasies, reduction, bare essentials vs. excess, discipline (within reason) self-observation, ‘obstacles’

 

TPT:   What are you studying?

E&E:  Sincerity.

PHILIP FRYER

 

Philip Fryer “TREE/POOL/SKY” 2012 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

 

 

Sandrine Schaefer:  How did the context of Defibrillator impact this piece?

PF: Since sound is such an essential part of this performance, the noises I found within the space really dictated how the piece was performed. The movable walls and the metal attached to the wall helped to lay out how and where I did each action.

SS: What was your inspiration for this piece?

PF: The lyrics of a Mount Eerie song titled “Summons”. It’s about a pool of water formed by the roots of a tree being pulled out of the ground when it fell over, reflecting the image of the sky. The visual of this in my head made me think about how these things are seemingly separate, but at that moment are connected. I aim to do the same in this piece, to find hidden things within a space and imagine what else might lie behind walls or under the floor.

SS: This was the 3rd version of TREE/POOL/SKY. How has it evolved?

PF: The first version in Boston was much more paired down, partially because it was in a small space. It felt unfinished so I decided to perform it again. A few months later I was in Montreal, where it really took on a life of its own. Many actions were added in that version, including sounding the space, peering at audience member through the black portal,  and recording and playing a cassette loop live. I had anticipated doing the same actions as I did in Boston but once the performance started I felt the piece wanting to fill the space (which was enormous). The third version in Chicago didnt really see any actions added, but they certainly altered based on where I was and who I was with. Rather than interacting with audience members I didn’t know like I did in Montreal, I chose to acknowledge people I did know (Sandy Huckleberry and Marilyn Arsem). Marilyn was the first person to take the interaction a step further and put her hand through the portal and touched my lip. I can’t explain why, but this interaction makes me feel like this performance is now complete.

SS: Can you elaborate on the sound that was present?

PF:  I like to think of it as a heartbeat. A heartbeat generated by the space that is unique and omnipresent. It is one of a million possibilities. 

SS: Talk about portals…

PF:  This is a new element to my work that is yet to be really explored. I have a feeling that the next things I work on will delve further into what a portal is to me. In TREE/POOL/SKY, it is simply something that can swallow a being or alter its form. 

 

Phil Fryer "TREE/POOL/SKY" 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

 

SS: Can you talk about the intention behind your actions? Did that intention change once your were implementing the piece?

No, the piece has stayed pretty true to what I set out to do. It’s the first time that I’ve had an idea that I’ve felt the need to explore until it feels completed by performing it several times. 

image

SS: Can you talk about the extension?

PF: The extension came to me more as a visual than as an idea. I really liked the image in my head of a body extension that erases identity and creates something that looks almost non-human.

SS: What did it feel like to engage in such an intimate action with the audience (eye contact through the portal) then to be cut off from them? When you couldn’t see or hear were you scared or did you feel that that first action cultivated a sense of safety in the space?

PF: I like the idea of an experience transforming over the course of time. Initially, this experience with the audience is an intimate one and only a few have it, which makes it kind of sweet. Later in the performance, the portal changes its tone and takes away my senses. It was very scary in this performance, however, I did a different piece titled “APOCRYPHA” there I stood on the edge of a shipping container for 3 hours wearing the extension. It was really scary because I was only a few feet away from a 10 foot drop, and the sensory deprivation made it so that I could tell how close I was to the edge. That was pretty scary. 

SS: Talk about Xfiles and John Cage.

PF: I recently came out of the closet as an x-files nerd. It’s really had a big impact on my work. I just really enjoy the fact that each episode is its own rhetorical question, and challenges the viewer to question things in our realities that we take at face value. I wish they had done an episode about John Cage, that would have been awesome.

SS: What are some of your expectations/ hopes of your audience?

PF: I really just hope that the audience gets something out of the performance. I hope what I’m trying to convey is coming across but I really like hearing interpretations as well. Marilyn push my expectations a bit because I don’t get a lot of unsolicited interactions with my work, and it was really nice to have that happen. It really makes you check in with yourself about what your doing and how your doing it. If someone is moved enough to interact in an unexpected way it forces you to evaluate why it happened. 

SS: How was performing in Chicago different from making work in Boston?

PF: It’s always something I think about when I don’t perform in Boston, that different cities have different influences and histories. Therefore, your work is going to be read via that lens. 

SS: What imprints did Chicago leave on you?

PF: The most American city I’ve ever been in. Looking at the Sears tower from an empty lot. Triumph and tragedy. 

SS: What is inspiring you at the moment?

PF: Lucky Dragons “Ouija Miore (A Wave That Interferes)” synthesizer. An interactive, sonic and visual synthesizer that utilizes both chaos and order. So. Fucking. Cool.

SS: What’s next?

PF: I’m searching for the “Tonybee Tiles” that are in Boston. These tiles are from some sort of bizarre personal mythology that led someone to embed into the streets and sidewalks. I’ve seen them before in other cities but didnt really take note until I say the documentary (Resurrect Dead) about them. They seem to be disappearing and deteriorating rapidly so they might not be viewable much longer. I love the idea of chasing a decaying idea and it feels important to what is coming next for me. 

SS: Any words of wisdom?

PF: “If you understood everything I said, you’d be me” -Miles Davis

“Go with your gut…every single time.” an interview with EJ Hill

Back in October, I had the pleasure of meeting and seeing the work of LA based artist EJ Hill.  We both were representing Defibrillator Gallery at the MDW Art Fair in Chicago.  In the midst of the bustle of the art fair, EJ stood as still as possible for 3 hours.  I instantly fell in love with his piece and his demeanor.  The Present Tense is thrilled to share a recent interview we did with him!

"Drawn" 2011- EJ licked every wall of the exhibition space. After a few minutes, his tongue was rubbed raw and left a trail of blood. photo by Matt Austin

TPT: Who are you?
EJ: Ah! Such a big first question! I’m still working on that one. I haven’t quite resolved that one yet…

 

 

TPT:  How did you find live art?  How did live art find you?
EJ: I guess I’ve always sort of been interested in extraordinary experiences or circumstances but I didn’t really come to understand those as art until I found myself hanging out with other weirdos at Columbia College in Chicago. I thought I was going to learn to draw and paint when I got to art school, which, you know, was definitely there, but once I figured out that other things could be art, that experiences could be art, I hit the ground running in a different direction.

 

 

TPT: Tell me about one experience that has influenced, inspired or affected your work.
EJ: When I was about 6 or 7 years old, my only neighborhood friend was the kid who lived next door. He was about a year or two older than me and his family pretty much gave him free reign. My family was the exact opposite; I was so coddled and sheltered growing up that I wasn’t even allowed to go past our driveway onto the sidewalk alone. So I never really got to venture out and play with the other kids. Because of that, my friend knew a whole lot more about things than I did but he was always getting into trouble for one thing or another. So one day we were playing in my backyard and he told me that if I put my mouth on his penis that it would feel good. So not knowing what any of this was about but curious to try it, he pulled out his penis, put it in front of my face and I did what I always did when things entered my mouth… I bit down. Hard.

"Suck and Blow" 2009 blow dryer, vacuum with hose attachment, performance duration: 7 minutes, photo by Tannar Veatch

TPT:  In October 2011,  you made a piece where you stood still for 3 hours for the MDW Art Fair in Chicago. Can you talk about the intention behind this action?
EJ: I think I was just tired of performing at that point. I felt that when people showed up to see one of my performances, they expected me to make some intense, hyper-aggressive, balls-to-the-wall piece where I sweat and cry and freak out. And I don’t ever want my work to become predictable. Ever. So I was thinking about ways to perform, without actually performing. So I thought, “What if I just stood still and did nothing for as long as I could?”

 

TPT:  Can you describe your process for realizing this work?
EJ: Yeah, so after the “What if…” thought, I decided to try it. The fist time I tried it, the plan was stand still for 24 hours and see what happens. I was working late in the studio one night and I asked my friend Dylan Mira to take one photo of me on the hour every hour. So I set up the tripod and camera and just stood about 20 feet away from it. That night, I only made it to 4 hours, but those 4 hours were so crazy! By the end of it, snot was running from my nose, my shoulders sagged by about a full inch, my feet were swollen, and I couldn’t really see because my eyes had been tearing up for the last hour or so.

 

TPT:  What were some of your expectations/ hopes (if any) of your audience?
EJ: I had hoped that whatever meditative, out of body, mindfuck that I was experiencing could somehow be transmitted from my body to anyone else who encountered me. I wondered if whatever energy that was flowing through me while I was in that altered state could be felt by others.

 

TPT:  Were there any moments that surprised you?
EJ: I think it was somewhere around the last hour where another piece in one of the other booths at MDW sent me flying somewhere else! It was a sound piece that could be heard throughout the entire floor. It was a continuous low drone that layered and got louder and more complex with time. I noticed that the whole time I was there, no one really engaged with me for longer than a few seconds but when the sound piece started to affect me in this hypnotizing way, people started to gather around and just watch. I’m not sure what I looked like but I think it was at that moment that I tapped into whatever I tapped into that first night in the studio. People stood around, and just watched. Just watched me stand.

 

TPT:  Why did you choose to create this work over the duration of 3 hours?
EJ: I planned to go for longer, but shortly after the low drone of the other piece ended, I just didn’t want to continue. After the sound stopped, I felt like I was doing that thing where I was performing. I was only continuing for the sake of the audience and it began to feel really insincere.

 

TPT:  How did the piece evolve for you over that time?
EJ: It was painful. Ironically, standing still takes a lot of hard work, tons of stamina. The soles of my feet were killing me, my back and shoulders were hurting from the weight of my arms. Physically, it wasn’t very pleasant but psychologically, it was almost euphoric.

 

TPT:  How was performing in Chicago different from making work in other places?
EJ:Well, I went to school in Chicago so I had a few years of developing a practice or a working method. I was comfortable. And I think toward the end, other people were comfortable with what I was doing and expected me to deliver a certain type of work. So any time I got the opportunity to travel and make work somewhere else, it was exciting. I could go and make my work with an entirely new audience who didn’t go into it with any preconceived notions. Chicago also has this very impressive “get off your ass and make it happen” kind of attitude. If it’s not being done, and people want to see it happen, someone will make it happen. People are grinding hard and not so much because of market pressures as is the case in some other cities, but because they really believe in what they do. It’s phenomenal. It’s beautiful. It’s so fucking REAL.

 

TPT:  How did the context of an art fair inform your piece?
EJ: I knew it was going to be busy. There was going to be a lot of people, a lot of action, a ton of art. I wanted to contrast the usually overwhelming nature of art fairs.

 

TPT:  Do you have an ideal context for your work to be experienced in?
EJ: Yes. That moment when you’re least expecting it.

(photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America)

TPT:  You were one of the performers who participated in Marina Abramovic’s piece for The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles’ annual Gala. How did this situation challenge your perception of stillness?
EJ: That one was weird because there were so many other things going on at the time (the Debbie Harry performance, the tiff between Yvonne Rainer and Marina Abramovi?) so it was really difficult to even think about stillness with so many distractions on and off court. And we were all supposed to rotate on lazy Susans beneath the tables so we were still, but only kind of.

 

TPT:  How has this experience informed your creative process?
EJ: The MOCA performance itself, the action, sort of left as quickly as it arrived. But I still find myself asking questions regarding power dynamics in the art world. I haven’t unlocked any secrets or answered any questions definitively, but I’m thinking a lot more about work ethic, compensation, celebrity/art stardom, creative impetus, the role of the wealthy in the production/consumption of art…

 

TPT:  What are you currently studying?
EJ: Love.

 

TPT:  Who/What is inspiring/ influencing your work presently?
EJ: Mark Aguhar, Frank Ocean, Anderson Cooper.

 

TPT:  Any words of wisdom?
EJ: Go with your gut. Every single time.

Stillness Series- Marilyn Arsem

Stillness is defined as a state or an instance of being quiet or calm.  It is also defined as the absence of motion.  Although stillness suggests inactivity, it can provide opportunities for focused movement and heightened sensation.  When contemplating these concepts in relation to contemporary art practices, Marilyn Arsem is one of the first artists that comes to mind.  Arsem has been conjuring thoughts about stillness in her work for over 3 decades, challenging her audiences to consider human and environmental impermanence.  Arsem works with a site-sensitive process, designing each piece for the place in which it occurs.  Arsem takes into account a myriad of contextual information that builds even the most minimal actions into site and time-specific experiences layered with complexities of meaning.

 

 

 Wintering Over

From durational performance “Wintering Over” By Marilyn Arsem At the National Review of Live Art Glasgow, Scotland, UK. February, 2007. Photo by Sally Maidment

For eight hours, Arsem lay inside of three tons of rich, fragrant organic soil.  She was in a greenhouse, ‘wintering over’ in the Hidden Gardens at Tramway in Glasgow, Scotland, UK for the National Review of Live Art in February 2007.  Speakers positioned at the entrance of the greenhouse amplified her breath and occasional whispers.  As people walked deeper inside of the space, these transmissions of Arsem’s live sound became inaudible.  Near the pile of earth, the curious noticed a slight rising and falling of the soil, an indication of the body lying beneath the surface.  If they drew nearer they could hear the sound of Arsem sporadically whispering her fears under the mound.  It was a quiet encounter.

 

“Underneath it was pitch black.

The earth was heavy on me, shifting, settling in to increasingly constrict my body and my breathing whenever I moved.

The air seemed too warm, too still, too thin.

And it was terribly silent.

I don’t remember much.

I had to enter some kind of altered state to stay underneath,

in order to keep at bay the fear of being buried alive.” – Marilyn Arsem


 

 

The action of listening carefully for Arsem’s muffled sounds intensified the sonic landscape inherent within the site. The duration of the performance passed through twilight hours into the night, bringing a heightened awareness of natural life cycles.

 

From durational performance “Wintering Over” By Marilyn Arsem At the National Review of Live Art Glasgow, Scotland, UK. February, 2007. Photo by Sally Maidment

 Undertow

from durational performance “Undertow” by Marilyn Arsem in Ex-Frigorifico at the 1st International Congress of Performance Art, Valparaiso, Chile. November, 2005 photo by Sofia De Grenade

Chile’s International Congress of Performance Art took place in Valparaiso, an active port city on the Pacific.  The festival had access to an old refrigerator warehouse known as the “Ex Frigadator”.  Arsem chose a small room with a trough style drain running down the center as the context for a durational piece.  Inspired by an encounter with a vendor selling bundles of dried seaweed, Arsem decided to fill the room with fresh seaweed collected from the ocean.   Arsem filled half of the floor with seaweed and blocked the trough at both ends so that it would hold water and mounds of salt.  Arsem laid in the seaweed, and allowed her feet to dangle in the trough.  For hours, she rolled through the visceral material that began to engulf her form.  She paused for long periods of time in between the action of rolling, creating an opportunity to witness her body engaged in a moment of stillness.

from durational performance “Undertow” by Marilyn Arsem in Ex-Frigorifico at the 1st International Congress of Performance Art, Valparaiso, Chile. November, 2005 photo by Sofia De Grenade

 

In both Wintering Over and Undertow Arsem’s body creates images that suggest the ultimate state of stillness.  She engages in various states of burial, addressing the ephemeral nature of being.  As she breaths and whispers with a mound of earth heavy on her chest, she conjures ideas about the afterlife.  The image of her body tangled in seaweed, brings forth sensorial responses that remind us of the shared experience of facing mortality.  Arsem’s work uses stillness as an opportunity to bring forth difficult and complex ideas surrounding the transient cycles of life and death.

 

 

 

Marilyn Arsem has been creating live events since 1975, from solo gallery performances to large-scale, site-specific works. Arsem has presented work at festivals, conferences, alternative spaces, galleries, museums and universities in North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Most recently she has focused on creating site-specific performances, often in the context of festivals. These works are not planned in advance, but made in response to a location that is selected on arrival.She is a member (and founder) of Mobius, Inc., a Boston-based collaborative of interdisciplinary artists. As a full-time faculty member at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, she heads the Performance Area and is a Graduate Advisor.

Interview with Daniel S. DeLuca

In early March, Art Fair season hit New York City, causing a frenzy of artists and galleries getting their work ready for prospective buyers.  Grace Exhibition Space, a gallery devoted to showing performance art in New York decided to wrangle their resources and participate at Fountain Art Fair.  In Grace’s “Go Big or Go Home” fashion, all bases were covered.  They teamed up with Boston’s Mobius Artist Group to organize performances to happen throughout the day and then Grace Space invited other performance artists to make performances in the evening.  I had the pleasure of participating and witnessing performance art taking over a space traditionally reserved for product-based artwork.  This event was appropriately named, “Infiltrate”.

A piece that stood out throughout the 4 days of “Infiltrate,” was Daniel S. DeLuca’s “demur”.  DeLuca, a Boston-area and Mobius artist, installed himself in front of the space where galleries had created temporary spaces on Pier 66 in Manhattan.  DeLuca seemed unassuming, blending into a pile of scrap metal and a forgotten caboose.  He held a sledgehammer in one hand, standing in front of a steel plate he foraged from the immediate environment.  A second sledgehammer was attached to the plate.  A few feet away, he installed a “Contract for Sale” for this performance piece.  For 8 hours for 3 consecutive days, DeLuca repeatedly hit the sledgehammers together, building a steadfast and cacophonous addition to the sonic landscape.

The Present Tense recently interviewed DeLuca about this piece, his process and practice.  Enjoy!

photo by Sandrine Schaefer

TPT:  Who are you?

DD:  Great question.

TPT:  How did you find performance art?  How did performance art find you?

DD:  It kicked me in the face one day during a class I was taking with Denise Marika at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Denise was in the middle of making the distinction between performance art and theater and she suddenly  stood up from her chair, raised it over her shoulder, then forcefully threw it into the floor.  It was at that moment that the concept of performance art became clear to me. Her action had real force and impact. She wasn’t pretending.  Looking back it was a powerful moment.  The whole platform of performance art practice really opened up in my mind.  I saw the potential of the medium and it felt honest to how I wanted to make work.  That was six years ago.

TPT:  Do you have an ideal context for your work to be experienced in?

DD:  I make a real effort to be sensitive to the context my work is shown in. Sometimes I will think of an action or material I want to work with and a suitable context is sought in relation to those elements. Other times I’m invited to a particular context or one is  discovered and the work becomes more of a response to or collaboration with the site.  A starting point seems necessary. It is hard to work outside of time and space.

TPT:  How did you choose the space in which you performed in?  Why did you choose to stay in one location?

DD:  I went through the authorized locations for performances and selected a spot that was open enough for me to swing a sledge hammer without worrying about impeding foot traffic.  Honestly, there weren’t many options.  Staying in the same place established a constancy and focus on the action. It was practical too.

photo by Sandrine Schaefer

TPT:  How did the context of being on a barge inform your experience?

DD:  It led me to consider my balance on a gently swaying surface.  While I was performing I was able to work with the sway.  When I wasn’t performing it made me feel clumsy and a little uneasy.

TPT:  How did the context of an art fair inform your performance?

DD:  It led me to consider the commercial market for art and in particular, performance art.

PTP:  You created a Contract of Sale for this piece.  What was the role of this Contract?

DD:  The contract was created to position the work more closely to the context of the art fair. I couldn’t ignore the fact that people would be selling artwork, not just at Fountain, but throughout New York as well.  I was thinking about the position of performance art among all of those commercial art fairs. I wonder how many performance art pieces sold?  It was an honest attempt to draft a contract that would act as a catalyst for the sale of the performance and was an interesting conceptual platform to work with.  I’m still working through ideas that came up while working on this aspect of the piece.  I think that its important to note that most people didn’t look at the contract. My action with the sledgehammers became the whole piece for the majority of the audience.

TPT:  Is there a relationship between the action of hitting sledgehammers together and this document?

DD:  Yes, the contract was an example of the metaphor of the action. The piece became self-referential because of it.

TPT:  Why Sledgehammers?

DD:  I liked the weight and force associated with them.  It was a good match for me physically. I wanted to work with an action that  would be challenging both in terms of strength and balance. I also wanted to work with a hard material. Steel is pretty hard. Their familiarity as a working class tool was important as well.

TPT:  Are these objects (Sledgehammers, Steel, and Contract of Sale) familiar to your work?  Are they new to your work?  Do you predict that you will work with them again?

DD:  I have worked with hammers once before. But the steel and the contract were new elements for me.  I was inspired by the weight of the steel and the complexity of the language in the contract.  I have already begun to revisit the role of the contract in my work.

TPT:  What is your relationship to your performance objects in the broader scope of your work?

DD:  You could use the same action to do a thousand different pieces by changing the material. You could also use the same material for a thousand different pieces by changing your action.  Context is another variable. I typically select objects that I feel are most appropriate to the concept and context I’m working with.  However, there have been some reoccurring interests with certain materials and I could see myself beginning to work with more closely over a period of time.  I’m still at a point where I’m exploring and discovering my relationship to the materials in my work. The way I work with gravity is becoming more clear to me. Its one of the major threads in my performance work.  Natural light and sound play a significant role too.

TPT:  What were some of your expectations/ hopes (if any) of your audience?

DD:  I hoped someone would buy my performance.

TPT:  Were there any moments that surprised you?

DD:  I was surprised by how loud the sound was.  The first day I didn’t wear ear protection and my ears rang for a few days afterwords.  I could have really damaged my ears if I hadn’t worn protection over the last two days.  It was startling for many people who walked by not expecting such a loud sound.  Some of the artists close by were annoyed by it. Others who were farther away said that it was kind of comforting to have the consistency of the sound coming from the distance.  I swung the hammer when I was ready to.  This was around every 30-60 seconds.

TPT:  Why did you choose to create this work over the duration of 3 days?

DD:  I wanted to have enough time to really experience the physicality of it and to see   the impact in the material. I wanted to flatten the sledgehammer, disintegrate it if I could. One swing at a time.  I have even given consideration to continuing the action for many years until the hammer really did flatten or the piece sold.  If the piece was sold and re-performed then I would’t have to do the work myself! I also  wanted to reach a wider audience and to be a constant element in the environment.

TPT:  How did the piece evolve for you over that time?

DD:  I developed a whole breathing cycle, physical acuity, and mental focus that I had not fully anticipated. I became more efficient with my swing pattern the more time I spent with it.  The concentration became clear to those watching in the subtle moments between the fast part of the swing. I began watching the shadows of people in my periphery. I tried to wait until them had passed by before I made a swing.  The sound was so loud I didn’t want to catch people completely off guard.  I also became more sensitive to the swaying of the boat.  I tried to work with the sway for each swing.  My legs were extremely sore after the first day and the second day was colder than the first.  I had different conditions to work with each day but I was able to get into and sustain the focus on the action more quickly after the first day.

photo by Sandrine Schaefer

photo by Sandrine Schaefer

TPT:  What is your definition of “durational”?

DD:  Honestly, I look at it like a relative grayscale.  I don’t have a notion of “durational” that I am trying to champion. Colloquially, I would use it to describe work that is several hours, days, or years long.

TPT:  What is the role of repetition in this work?

DD:  The repetition brought subtleties  to the surface and allowed for a visible impact in the material.  At first glance the action is kind of Sisyphean and not very entertaining.  However, unlike Sisyphus, there was gradual impact and change in the material over time. The hammer heads impacted each other and formed an imprint in the steel plate beneath them.  Despite the perceived futility of the act there was actual change taking place. Thinking more about the imprint broadened my understanding of the metaphor I was working with. Also, for me, it was the pace and duration of the repetition which alluded to a feeling of slow, constant, time.

TPT:  Can you describe your process for realizing this work?

DD:  This piece evolved over a month and a half before it was shown at the Fountain Ar Fair.  Initially, I was going to focus solely on concepts around the commodification of performance art.   However, I was having a lot of physical anxiety at the time so I decided to incorporate a physically challenging action. The action of swinging a sledgehammer is what I came up with.  This was also when the series of revolutions were taking place in the Arab World and senators were fleeing Wisconsin.  There seemed to be a lot of social and political unrest going on nationally and internationally.  This piece was an attempt at grappling with some of the skepticism I had around those issues. I questioned the way we use the same tools and systems to achieve our own ideals as the people and systems we ideologically oppose. Are the political and social systems at fault? Are the people at fault? At fault for what? Instead of placing blame and in light of offering an alternative I  created a metaphor through “demur.” I felt more like an observer and time keeper than a problem solver. What I discovered was the importance of the imprint left behind on the steel plate. The impact of the collision of steel on steel was one thing. The shape it left behind was something reflective of the original but completely different.

photo by Bob Raymond

photo by Bob Raymond

TPT:  Define “Demur”?

DD:  “The action or process of objecting to or hesitating over something… raising doubts.” (My computer’s dictionary)

TPT:  How was performing in NYC different from making work in Boston?

DD:  It was farther away from home.

TPT:  What is your interpretation of the “Boston Flavor”?

DD:  I don’t think Im qualified to answer that question.

TPT:  What is inspiring you at the moment?

DD:  Wonder and Reason.

TPT:  What are you studying?

DD:  Ideas, animals, space, and matter.

TPT:  Who/What is influencing your work presently?

DD:  Necessity.

TPT:  In addition to creating performance art, you are active in organizing art events, art research projects, etc.  How does this piece fit into the rest of your work?

DD:  I go through periods when I am more extroverted and have the drive to work collaboratively with larger numbers of artists and organizations.  I have other periods where I am more introverted and make work individually.  I am in an introverted period at the moment and am focusing on artworks like “demur.”

TPT:  What’s Next?

DD:  Three doors and a guillotine that cuts watermelons in half.  I am  also in the beginning stages of another artistic research project that investigates Mexico and the celebrations for the end of the Mayan calendar.  It would be similar to People in Space.

TPT:  Any words of wisdom?  Words to chew on?

DD:  Chew on words.